Archive for the ‘Life in Ukraine’ Category


The return of a prodigal son – or cutting a grubby little deal?

March 1, 2015

Amongst the rightful headlines of the criminal slaying of Boris Nemtsov and the suicide of Mykhailo Chechetov, whilst under house-arrest in Kyiv with on-going investigations into several historically nefarious acts, a similarly nefarious prodigal son returned to Ukrainian soil with far, far less media attention – in fact almost none.

Former Education Minister Dmitry Tabachnik, much loathed during his time in office – a loathing that has not abated since his feeing Ukraine when the Yanukovych regime collapsed – returned to Ukraine from Tel Aviv on flight PS776 a few hours ago.

Whether he was traveling under Ukrainian or Israeli citizenship, perhaps matters not, unless he was trying to sneak into Ukraine – which seems rather unlikely given his notoriety/infamy.

Tel Aviv airport 28/2/15

Tel Aviv airport 28/2/15

That he is wanted by the Ukrainian authorities for several crimes, including a pricing scam over Ukrainian school books and nefarious dealings with educational premises during his tenure as former President Yanukovych’s Minister of Education notwithstanding, his return is clearly of his own free will, rather than under any form of arrest or escort – or deportation from Israel.

It seems very unlikely this prodigal son has returned and is about to throw himself upon the mercy of Ukrainian society, unburdening his soul of past misdeeds.

What seems far more likely is that his return has been negotiated, perhaps with immunity from public prosecution, or with a guilty plea to a minor administrative offence carrying no significant penalty, in return for giving the Ukrainian equivalent of Queen’s/State’s evidence against those within the now vanquished Yanukovych regime.

Presumably he will have his liberty restrained in some form or another whilst the details of any grubby little deal is thrashed out, finalised, signed and then implemented – without the prospect of a leap from a window akin to the late Mr Chechetov, or any significant jail time (if any).

Indeed, in light of recent events over the last 24 hours both in Russia and Ukraine, some form of “protective custody” may be of benefit to him – especially if he is about to unlock the Yanukovych regime’s Pandora’s Box.

The issue to be judged, is whether his testimony and insight into the previous regime’s chronic corruption schemes and oppressive tendencies are worth the leniency his is likely to gain in providing it?  As loathsome as he is, the answer is probably “yes”.

A rather unexpected occurrence to be blunt – and certainly something to keep an eye on in the future.


Ukraine ahead of much of Europe, USA and BRICS – for once!

November 20, 2013

There are few global indices where Ukraine has not only progressed favourably, but is also ahead of many EU nations, the USA, Russia and China et al – and yet, when it comes to the Climate Change Performance Index 2013, Ukraine has climbed to 19th place – doing exactly that (per page 6/7).



UNHCR Report 2013 – Ukraine

July 29, 2013

Very short and sweet today as it is my good lady’s birthday and any more than 2 minutes writing anything here will not get a good reception!

Still, here is an interesting read from the UNHCR relating to refugees and asylum, which starts off fairly positively (see 11 and 12 Legislative reforms 2011 – 2013) but then tails off rapidly into a somewhat dismal tale – which is unsurprising given Ukraine’s consistent inability to turn written policy into practical reality over any issue we care to look at.

That’s it – back tomorrow!


Freedom House “Nations in Transit Report” – Amongst the words – an interesting number

June 19, 2013

Here is the latest Freedom House “Nations in Transit Report” on Ukraine.

Nothing really surprising in what is going in the right and wrong direction that you cannot read in this blog or countless others like it.

So as there is nothing really new in the report to regular readers of this blog why am I highlighting it?

Well, prior to all the prose, a number caught my eye.  That number was GNI/capita  PPP:  US $7040.

Why?  Because it has a correlation to democracy and democracy consolidation.

“And?” I know you are all thinking.  “The average Ukrainian is poor compared to the average westerner – so what – we all know the bigger the middle class/independent bourgeoisie the more stable democracy is.”

Quite true – but can you put a US$ figure on when those democratic nations or those in transition to democracy have never rolled back to authoritarian regimes when it comes to GNI/capita PPP?

Well for those who have read Lipset, Inglehart & Welzel and in particular Przeworski, this number is particularly important when it comes to democracy and the consolidation thereof.

Below is a table from Democracy and Economic Development by the aforementioned Adam Przeworski.


It shows that in 1999, those nations that were transitioning from authoritarian rule to that of democracy together with those who were consolidated democracies with a GNI/capita PPP: US$ 8000 or more, did not, and have never historically reverted back to authoritarian regimes.

That is not to say all nations with GNI capita PPP greater than $8000 in 1999 were democracies – some of the petro-states did indeed have a greater PPP than $8000 but were not in any transitional or existing democratic governance regime – think “resource curse” for want of a reason why they remained authoritarian despite the GNI/capita PPP US$ figure.

However, Ukraine whilst swinging between the academically defined transitional democratic points of “feckless” and “dominant party” nevertheless academically remains a transitional democracy – and thus it’s GNI/capita PPP:  US$7040 does matter when it comes to the chances of democracy surviving and consolidating – or not!

To crudely index link the GNI/captia PPP of 1999 to the present day, the magic US$ number rises from $8000 to approximately $10,000.  Thus, as Przeworski’s research shows, should Ukraine have a GNI/capita PPP: US$ 10,000 today, history clearly shows without exception in democratic and/or nations in a state of transition to democracy – the democratic system becomes invincible.

The table also clearly shows just how much chance – depending upon how far below the magic GNI/capia PPP US$ figure – nations have of reverting to authoritarian regimes.

Thus, whilst the Freedom House report has a few things to say about national governance, local governance, judiciary, corruption, civil society, media and electoral processes – none of which are new – and all vertical and horizontal institutions are necessarily commented upon through the democratic lens (and one has to say looking like a first semester course content introduction for A Level/college Political Science study) – it says little to nothing about the economics of democracy or where society sits in its pursuit or abandonment of democracy – both of which you would think are very necessary for inclusion in a report relating to nations in transition.


Ukrainian University League Table

June 9, 2013

For those interested, here is a league table of Ukrainian universities 1 – 200 as compiled by IREG Observatory on Academic Excellence.

Well, some of you readers might be interested!


New domestic geographical regions for Ukraine? What determines new boundaries?

May 28, 2013

Following on from yesterday’s post relating to reforms in local governance, this article appeared in Дело with a proposal from Party of Regions MP Sergei Grinevetsky to reduce the current 24 Ukrainian regions down to 8 – quoting unnamed scientists having stated this would be the best way forwards.

(Oh yes, Ukrainian politicians are like all other politicians globally when it comes to quoting unnamed scientists and unnamed scientific papers to the media in order to add the appearance of academic support for their views.)

The proposed new regions would be:

The Autonomous Republic of Crimea – Donetsk Region (Donetsk and Luhansk) – the Carpathian Region (Lviv, Ivano Frankivsk, Chernivtsi, Transcarpathia) – Kyiv Region (Kyiv, Kirovograd, Cherkassy, Chernogov) – Podolsky Region (Vinnitsia, Khmelnytsky, Ternopil region) – Polessky region (Volyn, Rivne, Zhytomyr region) – Dnieper region (Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia region) – Black Sea region (Odessa, Kherson, Mykolaiv region) – Slobozhanskiy region (Kharkiv, Sumy, Poltava region)

The rationale behind it, to provide a clear vertical to the executive (as if the current 24 regional governors don’t accomplish that) – consolidation of monetary and financial resources (bringing real concerns over the equalisation of funding between major cities in a particular region) – reducing bureaucracy and therefore corruption (although as the bureaucratic system will not change even if those who administer it sit in a different building, I’m not sure how it will reduce bureaucracy or corruption).

He claims it will also increase the optimisation of inter-regional links and strengthen them (by creating cross cutting cleavages as it is known in political science one presumes), it will miraculously reduce the number of depressed areas (because 8 regional heads are better than 24 at dealing with this issue?) thus reducing the socio-economic gaps in development.

It all appears to be purely and simply based on ease of administration, and nothing considered relating to the  opportunities the redrawing of regional geography can provide – thus it is entirely flawed from any other perspective other than making life easy for “the administration” of whomever is in power.

Now there is much to be said when it comes to political power structures and the number of geographical regions within a nation as scholars such as Lijphart, Horowitz, Lipset, Sklar and Dahl (to name but a few) have written – and there are broadly two schools of thought when it comes to breaking down regional polarising identifiers necessary for a tolerant society.  There is the Lijphart school of thought, of which I am not a fan – and there is the Horowitz school of thought, to which I am much more sympathetic.

If the Ukrainian internal geopolitical landscape is to be redrawn, there are several challenges to meet if the opportunity is to be fully grasped – and with due respect to Sergei Grinevetsky and his unnamed scientists, the proposed new regions fail to address three critical dimensions as well as they could – and probably should.

The proposed new borders do not address the political need to create new cross cutting cleavages (and thus create  more than one identity for people in the new regions founded upon their individual numerous diverse interests).  The political and ethnic orientated (and much written about) east/west divide in Ukraine is simply not addressed.  The economic geographical realities are not dispersed and inclusive enough for the same reason – and a growing and visible middle class is necessary for any democracy.  By failing to be more creative and mixing up the political, social and economic dimensions of Ukrainian life when drawing new borders, there is no initiative to generate more inclusive institutions that create compromise.

Neat lines on the map are not what is required to gain, consolidate and develop a tolerant democratic society – whether it be from the top, down – or the bottom, up.  If it is necessary to create a messy jigsaw of varied and uneven pieces to break up the current polarity where the opportunity arises – so be it.

Why not put Odessa with Vinnitsia, Mykolaiv and Kirovograd with whom it has land borders, but very different political, social and economic biases?  Why not divide Ukraine horizontally top, middle and bottom?  Or Diagonally?  Why not divide it north and south bisecting the current east/west divide?  If 8 regions is the magic number (which it isn’t) – why not 8 regions running north to south, insuring every region includes cities, urban and rural demands with both orange and blue political centres in each region, insuring everything is done in shades of purple?

Does society as a whole benefit in the long term from a blue regional administration sitting very comfortably in a blue region, or an orange administration in an orange region – or does it benefit more from either a blue or orange administration sitting far less comfortably in a purple region, whereby inclusiveness and compromise are necessary to enjoy more broad based support and get thing done that are mutually desired by all?

Why not complicate the patriarchal regional fiefdoms as much as possible given the chance?  Why not make it harder for them to function by mixing up the constituencies in which they are used to working?

Why change it at all if there is no obvious attempt to maximise the long term democratic outcome for social development and inclusiveness?

In short, in this proposal of new regional borders, there is no attempt at diversification from the current political regional tribalism – and as Sklar noted, “tribalism is a mask for class privilege“, by which he meant it is in political interests to retain areas of political tribalism to insure a politician rises to the top based upon the divisions of society, rather than any attempt at inclusiveness.

Horowitz states something similar when he states “Parties that begin merely by mirroring divisions help to deepen and extend them.”  – Where exactly, do the newly proposed borders fail to mirror the existing divisions?

I see nothing within the proposed borders that will create cross-cutting cleavages outside of the east/west divide in any significant way.  In fact the new borders proposed solidify the current regional biases rather than diversify them.

It would be interesting to know just what field the scientists to which  Sergei Grinevetsky refers come from, and perhaps more specifically what the parameters surrounding their recommendations where.  Purely economic?  Purely social?  Purely political?

Purely for administrative ease to the cost of a great opportunity seems most likely!


A decentralising of power to local government by Yanukovych?

May 27, 2013

Now here is an interesting entry on the President of Ukraine website – a decentralising of every day democratic powers in line with the Ukrainian Law of Self Government 1997 and the European Charter of Local Self-Government (ratified by Ukraine in 1998) – which naturally enough, whilst existing on paper, have never actually been implemented by any Ukrainian government.

Needless to say, the poorly written Constitution of Ukraine indeed puts hurdles (relevant Articles within Chapters 9,10 and 11 are conflicting with Chapter 6 for example) in the way of implementation, even if there has ever been the political will to implement the laws of Ukraine relating to local self-governance or upholding its obligations under the ECLSG.

In 2004 a constitutional review highlighted the issues but nothing was done.  In 2009 a half-hearted attempt by the then government to reconcile these issues was pooh-poohed severely by Council of Europe and thus those half-baked amendments were quietly abandoned.  In March 2012, the Council of Europe supported a new draft of amendments due to be implemented between 2013 and 2015.

Thus almost 20 years after identifying legislative issues preventing a far more democratic local self-government to the degree most of the EU would recognise, very little has been achieved.  In fact nothing has been achieved other than getting an approving nod from the Council of Europe over the current proposed amendments – so it is with interest that there now seems to be some momentum, particularly in respect of Articles 118 and 119 as identified by the presidential website.

All jolly good, although Articles 118 and 119 are but the tip of the iceberg within the conflict between constitution and law surrounding Ukrainian local governance  – but – it still all seems very unclear as to what, exactly, these proposals will amount to.

Ideally, if local governance and constitutional conflict are to be addressed then it should be carried out completely rather than in-part.  The whole point would be to deliver both legal mechanism but also legal and institutional clarity – both of which are currently either lacking, blurred or conflicting.

To start with, identifying a unified concept of local authority and giving a constitutional basis for the legal protection of local government would seem a very basic but good idea.  To have effective local government there needs to be a legal financial basis that insures the State provides some form of equalisation between local governments and insuring a basis for the development of local democracy.  Some form of legally established and protected tiering of levels of government, their accountability and responsibilities and the formation of councils within communities, cities, regions etc. – A legal defining of their key functions and limitations.

I could go on and on, but to do so would probably require changes to 50% of the Constitutional Articles that deal with local self-governance – so what’s the point?

I have written that this is going to decentralise power – and that is true to a degree.  However whilst it certainly would decentralise responsibility of local issues to local regional governors it must be remembered that regional governors are actually appointed by the President after consultations with the Cabinet – they are not elected.

That said, their daily involvement with city mayors and administrations varies greatly from governor to governor, city to city and town to town and the elected mayors, local councils etc will all have far greater autonomy, responsibility and accountability if the nod from the Council of Europe is to be read as meeting an acceptable democratic normative.

Thus just how far this therefore decentralises power – rather than decentralising responsibility and accountability – is a very subjective issue given the President is still responsible for the hiring and firing of regional governors who will be responsible in controlling more liberated city halls.

However, regardless of existing laws and undertakings to European Charters – does it not serve the centre to decentralise responsibility and accountability to the periphery anyway?  After all if things go badly wrong in one region of the periphery, is it not far easier to deal with it out there and in isolation, without it necessarily infecting other peripheral regions or the centre itself, due to centralisation unnecessarily drawing itself into every scandal?

Anyway, lets see what happens in the next year or so relating to increased autonomous local self-governance, responsibility and accountability.  Social policy is bound to have a significant impact on the presidential elections in 2015, and a shift towards more accountable local self-government and autonomy is not likely to lose any votes.


The symbolic signing of nothing special

May 19, 2013

There is much to be said for symbolism.

It can be inspiring, it can be unifying, it can be a moment of hope or defiance that ignites the courage of others – in short, it can have impact.

It can also be completely empty of meaning, condescending, devoid of rationale and ultimately, pointless in the extreme.

And so, 18th May brought to an end the 2 month “Rise Ukraine” strategy of the United Opposition – Batkivshchyna, UDAR and Svoboda parties – in Kyiv.

After countless rallies in numerous (opposition friendly) cities drawing crowds of a few thousand people each time – worryingly low numbers if you are an opposition party leader to be blunt – the finale in Kyiv attracted a only few thousands people once again.

I would have expected for 10,000 – 15,000 after months of rallies leading up to a well publicised finale – and even that number would be disappointing.

All the issues I raised in the above link back in March have proven to come to fruition – not that it would take anybody with a modicum of common sense and even the most basic understanding of Ukrainian politics and society any effort to come to that same conclusion.

When adding all the reported attendance numbers from all the rallies over the past 2 months, it doesn’t even get close to the gate numbers of Manchester United playing an average team on a very wet and cold Tuesday night at Old Trafford.

To be quite honest I still have no idea why the opposition embarked on such a strategy that was so clearly doomed to failure.  I still cannot deduce why I was asked to “rise” over the past 2 months just to now sit back down again – possibly until October 2015 when the next presidential elections are due.

There has certainly been no impact or identifiable causal effect from the “Rise Ukraine” campaign, other than to identify just how few people the opposition parties have managed to turn out during this time.


Anyway, back to today’s “Rise Ukraine” (anti)climax of the 2 month campaign, which saw the opposition party leaders sign a joint agreement in front of a pitiful crowd of about 4,ooo people relating to the presidential elections in 2015.

This agreement states that all opposition parties will support any opposition candidate that makes it to the second round of voting in the presidential elections.

That is a significant change in rhetoric from the past few months where is has been consistently claimed that a single nominee from the United Opposition would run.

Now it seems rather than a single opposition candidate to run against the current incumbent from the very beginning of any presidential election campaign (in the first round), the opposition leaders have failed (unsurprisingly) to agree on one of them running for the top job with the unified support of the others from the off.

Thus the plan after the least popular two have been eliminated in the first round of voting, leaving one to go head to head with Yanukovych, is to then unite behind their last man standing for the second round of voting.  A cozy little agreement granted – but will the opposition voters turn out in sufficient number in the second round to vote for a candidate that is not the man they voted for, not from a party they voted for, and does not share the same ideology as the man and party they voted for in the first round only a few weeks previously?

As Klitschko never seems to tire of saying, there are ideological differences between himself, Yatseniuk and Tyahnybok, and the parties they lead.  That is also true of their supporters differing ideologies.

Time will tell if opposition unification around a single presidential candidate after the first round of voting, rather than prior to any voting, will prove to be a sound strategy – I have serious doubts that it is a good strategy, although I also have serious doubts (at the time of writing), that Yatseniuk, Klitschko or Tyahnybok will beat Yanukovych anyway (even with full transparency and on a level playing field – which they may not get).

And so to the impact and underlying realities of the symbolic signing of the joint statement of opposition leaders,  pledging to support each – other only when they themselves have been eliminated from the presidential race.

The underlying  and sad reality is, there is little genuine unity amongst the opposition.  The impact of this agreement is almost zero, given that when all is said and done, ultimately, the public will be faced with the choice between Yanukovych or another in the second round of voting – opposition agreement or not.

* * * * *

On a completely different subject, there will probably be nothing from me tomorrow as I am doing something for the BBC – and their filming may take some time as I am not a great fan of being on camera, so single takes are very unlikely.   Thus I doubt I will have the time or interest to blog after being “Beeb’d” all day.

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